Saint Paul's Lutheran Church

Christmas Clothes

Text: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

In the Name of Jesus. Amen. Try to think of your happiest and most joyful moments in life. One of those moments that some people experience is their wedding day. It’s difficult to describe the joy of the bride and groom; and yet their joy is not noisy, rambunctious, nor obnoxious, but quiet and dignified. Neither the bride nor the groom make a speech, because their joy is overflowing. Their hearts are full of happiness; their minds are soaking in every micro-second while peering through the tunnel-vision that is easy to get on your wedding day; and it isn’t difficult to understand why the couple feels as though they’ve entered-into a little slice of heaven on the day that they become one as husband and wife.

But to say that their joy is quiet and dignified is not to say that the couple does not express their joy. They most certainly do. They do so by what they wear. Their clothing is a symbol of their joy. Their clothing matters. It is not just tradition for the sake of tradition. Their clothing is designed to stand out. The bride’s dress symbolizes what God’s Word says about marriage: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:25-27).”

With that we see why the bride’s dress says, “loved, sanctified, cleansed, splendorous, without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish” AND it says “joy!” The groom is the same: he is also dressed to stand out and he looks his best to proclaim his love and to celebrate his joy. His is the most significant view. He stands facing his bride’s entry and he beholds her as she processes down the aisle. What goes through his mind? For many husbands they will tell you: “I can’t believe God is giving her to me; and I can’t believe how much I love her!” As Solomon wrote, “My beloved is mine, and I am his;” (Song of Songs 2:16a) and the couple relates. They know this joy and what they are wearing proclaims it to the world.

But let’s be clear about this joy: if the relationship is mature, then they know about each other’s faults and foibles. They don’t go into the marriage thinking they have found someone who is perfect. In pre-marital pastoral care, I have the couples fill-out a trait inventory on each other (inquiring about possible positive traits that are lacking; and then another on negative traits that might be present). Whenever they come back to me with several observations on what needs to be worked on, I am relieved. I know that I am working a realistic couple. But in those instances that they come back to me implying that there are no issues, concerns, challenges, irritants, or weaknesses, then I start to sweat and prepare to inform the couple that perhaps they need to get to know each other a little better before marrying.

The couple ready for marriage understands that love covers over a multitude of sins (1st Peter 4:8); their wedding garments representing that they are covered by grace and the real joy is that this other person loves them in-spite of their imperfections. Such a love is unconditional. And this is the basis for the joy and for the appropriate dress!

Isaiah the prophet is here in his 61st chapter describing the joy of God’s people who are clothed, covered and dressed in wedding garments that make them share in their Lord’s glory. We can’t really appreciate how joyful they must have been in-light of what this clothing covered and -- indeed in the eyes of God -- replaced. The prophet had already proclaimed God’s judgment both upon them and their enemies. The verdict was in: sin never makes one beautiful, but grotesque; sin is what in fact cuts off joy. Sin brings misery and chokes joy. Indeed, the same prophet Isaiah described in Isaiah 64:6 that even our righteous acts – apart from the grace of God – are as polluted, filthy rags.

For this reason, some can’t imagine wearing wedding garments that symbolize purity and splendor. “How can I make such a claim?! I am too scarred. I am too dirty. I am too sinful to ever wear garments that stand for purity and joy!” But the garments themselves say, “those sins are no longer held against you. You have a new identity. You are now the beloved. Your wedding garments say that the Lord no longer sees the bad, but only sees the good. Your wedding clothing says the Lord has forgotten the old and now sees the new. And the new looks really, really pretty great!”

Indeed, God’s abounding grace was already being revealed by the prophet Isaiah some 850 years before Christ was born, so that God’s people would know full-well what Christmas would bring.

I mentioned a week ago about a conversation I had going into Christmas weekend. Someone told me that it didn’t feel like Christmas yet and I said, “It never does until the Christmas services.” But why say that? Certainly, the services are filled with the theme of Christmas. For example, we sing the wonderful carols which celebrate the birth of the Savior for peace upon those who receive a living faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

But it is more than that, because in these services we receive Christ Himself (and this is made possible on-account of that first Christmas when Jesus entered the world), and Christmas reminds us of this truth perhaps more so than in any other season. If we could boil down the true gift of Christmas in one word, it may very well be the word “Incarnation”: God taking on flesh; or simply, “God enfleshed,” or perhaps more simply: “God becoming one of us.” Christmas is about God joining us; and indeed, especially in-light of our baptism into Christ, God clothing us. “For all of you baptized into Christ, have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).” And as the Church, we are married to our Savior; we are one with Him. This is the great gift of Christmas. You’ve received wedding clothes that express the joy that you are now one with God.

It is easy to lose track of what we received this Christmas. What did you get? We got all kinds of things right? I didn’t get a lot of packages, very few, which was more than fine with me. But the best packaged gift was from my wife. She got me this really-awesome sweater. Now like many of you, I’ve had a lot of sweaters over the years, but this might be the nicest sweeter I’ve ever had. Not only is it extremely comfortable, very cozy, but it is also a good-looking sweater; a handsome sweater. I think it just might – possibility – help me look better as well.

Well I’m here to proclaim to you: “On-account of your Christmas present, you are looking amazing. On-account of receiving Christ, God has put on you and covered you with the robe of righteousness!” The Hebrew word is “se-da-ka,” and it truly covers. This is also known as a mantle. In this sense “mantle” means cloak or as our ESV says “robe.”  It is the outermost garment. It is what people finally see on you. “…and with the mantle [you have a] flowing outer garment that completes the attire of the rich, the noble, the princes, prophets, and priests… (August Pieper, An Exposition of Isaiah 40-66, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Northwestern Publishing House, 1979. 613).”

This is a fantastically important concept. Sometimes people reduce the idea of righteousness to acts of righteousness or righteous deeds or righteous actions. This concept is of course legitimate. These exist and they’re important, but first, there is a more important concept: before the act, there is the clothing. Before the bride walks down the aisle, she has the wedding dress. Before the groom beholds his love, he is in his tux. You’ve heard the saying, “dress the part.” Before you utter a syllable, if you show up to the job interview dressed like a bum, the interview will be over before it begins; but if you show up dressed up, you’re off to a great start.

This concept is the first concept. This is a forensic idea. This is something that exists upon you. This is what God in Christ has given you! You are clothed in Jesus and right off the bat, before anything comes out of your mouth or before any action you take, the Lord says, “Make way, one of my royal children is walking in.” You are welcomed, adorned, adored, celebrated, and looking wonderful: all sins forgiven; all guilt and shame removed; all fear and dread a thing of the past. This – my brothers and sisters in Christ – is the most important gift you received this Christmas. This is what you are wearing, and again, you look amazing! This is how God sees you now.

Eusebius of Caesarea:

“…she [that is the Church of which you belong] takes the fullness of those being saved and like a bride she is said to consist of one fine and fair body and to have clothed around her the beauty of her groom. She [that is the Church of which you are a member] is a monument of light, flashing forth a body of divine resurrection that is called the body of the savior. For it is no longer a body of death, as Paul confirms, ‘Who will save me from this body of death?’ [Rom 7:24] For this is salvation, to put …on one’s soul…a tunic of righteousness (Elliott, Mark W., ed., Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, Old Testament XI, Isaiah 40-66, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2007. 241).” This righteousness by which you are clothed means that you have a new body that will never die.

And with this, there is joy! When Traci gave me my sweater on Christmas Eve, I was really – truly – happy with my new sweater, but imagine being in a state when that initial joy just stays…the sweater is always brand new; the delight constant. Take the higher illustration: the tunnel-vision joy at your wedding, and the beloved only becomes more beautiful in time…the joy not only doesn’t end, but it increases. Every time you are with your beloved, there is joy.

Now take the greatest gift: covered in Christ’s righteousness where Christ is your life and you’re one with the One who will never die. Now that’s you; the radiant ones – the ones decked out in the wedding covering -- will never die. Rejoice with great, great joy! Your Christmas clothes look great on you!

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